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Diaz, Ando dispute Olympic spot


We have two lifters who both came from poverty. One is already an Olympic champion and the other one is considered a rising star.


The Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas’ original plan for the 2024 Paris Olympics was to have both Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando — two of the country’s best lifters — represent the country after an impressive showing in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Diaz went on to win the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal after winning the women’s 55-kilogram event while Ando, despite placing seventh in the women’s 64-kg event, showed a lot of promise after making her surprise debut in the Summer Games.

But fielding both of them in the Olympics wasn’t meant to be.

The International Weightlifting Federation merged both categories into the women’s 59-kg event to curb doping allegations and retain the credibility of the sport in future Olympic Games.

Diaz, who has made a habit of dominating the 55-kg event, found herself bulking up to qualify for the world’s biggest sporting event in what could be her final lift.

She even said she has drawn inspiration from boxing icon, Senator Manny Pacquiao, in improving herself despite going up in weight.

“It’s a big inspiration to know that he (Pacquiao) was able to do it back when people were saying he couldn’t do it,” Diaz, 31, said.

Despite winning every gold medal possible in her career from the Summer Games to the World Weightlifting Championships last year, the pride of Zamboanga City said she can still do it and aim to be the first Filipino to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.

“So far, I was able to recover from my adjustments. When it comes to 59-kg, it takes a lot of sacrifices, a lot of pain and challenges,” said Diaz, who has her team of specialists, called “Team HD” led by her husband and coach Julius Naranjo, dietician Jeanneth Aro, and sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad.

“I was able to overcome the struggles and the challenges. I’m hoping I will do my best for Paris 2024.”

She placed fourth in her first Olympic qualifier — the Asian Weightlifting Championships 2023 in Jinju, South Korea — after making a snatch of 99 kgs and a clean-and-jerk of 122 kgs for total lift of 221 kgs as she opted to skip the 32nd Southeast Asian Games to focus on her preparation for the Olympics.

In fact, Diaz is happy despite missing the podium in her first competition at the 59-kg event.

“First competition for a new weight category and a new beginning. Yes, I am happy with the result as it brings me closer to my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics,” Diaz said.

“There are three to four more Olympic Qualification events to qualify for Paris 2024, we are almost there and we know that there’s still a lot of room for improvement in our training and preparation. My team and I are determined to work hard towards our goal for Paris 2024.”

On the other hand, Ando, 24, is showing that she can give Diaz a tough challenge.

While she did struggle at first with her new weight after getting a DNF in the Asian tilt last 7 May, she bounced back hard after setting new SEA Games records in the 59-kg event en route to her first gold medal in the biennial meet a week later in Phnom Penh.

In the Cambodian capital, the product of University of Cebu lifted 98 kgs in snatch and 118 kgs in clean and jerk for a total lift of 216 kgs, eclipsing former record holder Hoang Thi Duyen of Vietnam.

“Our target was to take the gold and the SEA Games records. Reducing my weight was hard because it sometimes made me dizzy,” said Ando, who smashed Hoang’s records of 96-kgs in snatch, 115-kgs in the clean-and-jerk and a total lift of 211-kgs.

“Our coaches were monitoring my lift and making sure I was mindful of the time whenever I lift.”

While both lifters will have to go toe-to-toe for the lone ticket in the Olympics, they simply shrug off the comparison, insisting that whoever qualifies deserve to represent the country.

For Diaz, she will be happy with whoever will come out on top as both of them have one mission in mind: To bring honor to the Philippines.

“We didn’t talk about it but at the end of the day, the qualifying period is long and whoever gets a better total in the Olympic ranking gets qualified,” Diaz said.

“This is for the country at the end of the day.”

As for Ando, she is not rushing things yet as there are a lot more competitions to join before the Paris Olympics.

“I don’t know yet what’s in store. We just finished playing in two competitions,” Ando said.

Weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella said the showdown between the two lifters promises to be nothing short of epic as both of them will leave nothing to chance in the remaining four Olympic qualifiers for a chance to represent the Philippines in the Summer Games.

“We have two lifters who both came from poverty. One is already an Olympic champion and the other one is considered a rising star. It’s going to be interesting to see who wants it more — the reigning champion or the future?” Puentevella said.

“Well, Hidilyn wants to prove that she can still win despite moving to a higher weight category while Ando wants to protect her turf — the 59-kg class.”

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